Sun Devil head coach Trisha Ford has repeated to her players that they have to love the hard times. The settings that define them as players and people.
No. 21 Arizona State may have not imagined their tough nine-game stretch of the conference’s best in Arizona, UCLA and Washington to have gone as rough as it has been.
The Sun Devils welcomed the nation’s top team in the shape of the Bruins to Farrington Stadium on Friday. Instead of finding themselves after a sweep from their rival, Arizona, the weekend before, ASU (25-12, 5-5 Pac-12) fell 10-0 to UCLA (33-1, 7-0).
“For me, it’s not about the loss, it’s what we look like out there,” Ford said. “That was my message to them. Come out and play softball. Crazy as that sounds, we’re not playing softball right now... It’s not life or death right now, go out there and play softball. You’re really good, you’re capable of playing at this level and go out and do what you’re capable of doing.”
Vocal leader and senior center fielder Morgan Howe resounded the same message of her coach.
“We’re not playing our type of softball right now, we’re not playing our game right now, and it’s showing,” she said. “We’re a small team, we’re 18-strong, but I don’t think everyone has bought into that it takes every single one of our girls to get the job done. Getting back to our game, getting back to who we are.”
Behind a pair of two-run home runs from senior third baseman Taylor Pack, the Bruins extended their winning streak to 17. Pack’s two-homer day didn’t come off of ASU starter Samantha Mejia, but rather Cielo Meza, who relieved Mejia in the third.
Sophomore shortstop Brianna Perez started the game with a four-pitch walk. She stole second and scored on a single from junior center fielder Bubba Nickles. A wild pitch brought in Nickles later in the frame. Two doubles in the third made a path for Mejia’s quick exit.
“I was disappointed with Sam. She didn’t come out ready to go,” Ford said. “Pressure is on them, and today I felt like we played with the pressure on us. That’s not who we are, we should be loose, we should be playing hard and fast.”
Meanwhile, things at the plate haven’t improved for ASU. It’s been 22 innings since the Sun Devils have scored a run after freshman right-handed pitcher Megan Faraimo tossed a complete two-hit shutout on Friday.
Howe broke Faraimo’s perfect game in the fourth. It still didn’t mean much to the missing high-powered ASU offense, as Howe was later stranded on third to end the inning.
“It’s a choice whether you’re checked in to pick a good pitch to hit or not,” said Howe on if she thinks the issues in the box are mental. “Speaking for myself, my first at-bat they’re pitching me balls up in the zone that are never strikes and I’m swinging at them. Like that’s me no checking in to that first at-bat.”
With such a long scoreless-streak, Ford was asked if the team needs to see just one run to get their confidence back.
“I do,” Ford responded. “I thought the last two innings were better, but we’re still not playing ASU softball. It’s going to come, but they just need to keep working.”
Howe and company will try to put the offense back on the scoreboard on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. against the Bruins. The game can be seen on ESPN2.